Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Leopard Print Loincloth - Theatre Review

What: Leopard Print Loincloth
When: 4 - 8 February 2020
Where: Theatre Works
Written by: Jake Stewart
Directed by: Dominic Weintraub
Performed by: Joel Beasley, Eamon Dunphy, Ben Goss, Max Greenham, Luey Kemp-Mykyta, and Rhys Wilson
Ben Goss and Eamon Dunphy
Leopard Print Loincloth was nominated as a top pick of Midsumma Festival by Arts Review. Doing the late shift at Theatre Works, the show is on at 9pm until the end of this week.

Leopard Print Loincloth, for me, is a great lesson in how what you are expecting to see affects your experience of a piece of theatre. I came expecting a dynamic exploration of Australian masculinity, with some insight into toxic masculinity which is how the publicity explained the show. I was sorely disappointed.

My plus one came to see nude male bodies and some gay story telling. He went home with a smile on his face.

Is Leopard Print Loincloth a play? Perhaps in the broadest sense of the word - meaning it is a group of men playing pre-written text in a theatre. The show is fragmented bursts of male on male encounters, all of them ending up with sexual and/or romantic outcomes of various sorts.

There is a reference at the start of the play about Cubism. Perhaps Stewart (playwright) was attempting a cubist approach to his writing, but to be honest this feels more like a jigsaw puzzle which has only been started and has small clumps of part of the picture.

To be cubist means to see all three dimension of a thing or idea. This fails to be cubist about masculinity because it is all through the gay lens looking at gay relationships. It is fine for that to be what it is, but that is not what they told the audience to expect (except in the Joy interview perhaps).

I can't tell you who many of the characters are in Leopard Print Loincloth because names are rarely mentioned and the construct is a series of random sketches. There are some great moments though. I loved the scene in Act 1 with the boy looking at the men in the park and also the schoolboy scene which opens Act 2. Yes, there are 2 acts with an interval so expect to finish at 11pm assuming the show starts on time.

The play is staged in traverse but it is a shared venue so I assume this is part of the requirement for the earlier work which they have agreed on. Sadly, it does not help Leopard Print Loincloth because so many of the scenes are intimate moments between men trying to connect with each other and the current Theatre Works layout makes the venue feel like an aircraft hangar.

In addition to that, Weintraub (director) has the men almost always standing on opposite ends of the traverse so they  are having to project across a vast gulf. This may be a metaphor about the chasm which spans the inner space of modern relationships, but it is overused and just makes the whole show lose authenticity.

I don't think Weintraub is experienced enough as a director to work in this configuration. His main solution to the traverse is to place the scenes right at the far ends which means half the audience are always straining their neck to see around people to watch the show. His other go to is to have one person on each half but not moving. I really wish he had seen Just A Boy, Standing In Front Of A Girl to understand how to use a traverse dynamically.

The actors are fantastic despite a script so meta it has no actual play inside. Kemp-Mykyta really stood out as an actor who makes every moment on stage something engaging even when he is being a supernumary. Having said that, all the guys were fantastic to watch and had physical dynamism.

Sadly, and probably because of the script and direction, there was not a lot of character differention. It felt like they were telling the same story over and over. Meet, feel uncomfortable, kiss - then rinse and repeat.

There is no production support listed anywhere, which makes sense because there was little in the way of any kind of design aesthetic. I get the whole minimalism thing, but an eye to style wouldn't go astray. I assume the venue tech did the lighting with support from the other show. It was good but there was a highly overused and annoying smoke machine.

I haven't seen as much smoke in a venue since The Disappearing Trilogy and it was as pointless this time as it was then although for different reasons. The haze just kept rising to the ceiling and because it was moving and the actors weren't all that much, it became more interesting to watch the haze swirling in the light beams near the ceiling. It is worth remembering everything on stage is a signifier and points to something. Why on earth do you want to point to the lighting grid?

I admit to a bit of anger with this production. They have received support from The Office For Women and I assume this is because the show was touted to be an investigation into toxic masculinity which would perhaps provide insight for women into this phenomenon. There is little (except the school boy scene) which points to anything of interest to women.

I am also rather bored with indulgent gay theatre which just focuses on sex. The least interesting or important thing about the LGBTQIA+ community is who they are sleeping with.

In many ways this show reminded me of the self indulgence of Ballet Lab's Kingdom from 2016. The Sydney Morning Herald wrote of that show, 'As Kingdom stretches well past an hour, it gets increasingly difficult to forgive... for the excesses and self-indulgences in this work...' I feel the same about Leopard Print Loincloth.

Yes, it has been important to see the LGBTQIA+ community are just ordinary people falling in and out of love and in and out of sex. What I want to start seeing more of is why and how this is creating disempowerment and discrimination so that we can address those issues.

You can and will have a good time with Leopard Print Loincloth as long as you only want to see gay boys working out how to be together in a meaningful way - and getting their kit off quite a few times! The frame Stewart uses about making theatre is disingenuous but the show is full of drama school exercises which make fellow drama school audience members laugh as an in joke, so you might get a kick out of those too I suppose...

Mental health warning: There is a ladder in the space trying to be everything but a ladder.

2 Stars

3 comments:

  1. Absolutely coherent and accurate review of a production myself, my mate (and many others) walked out of after perseverance for way longer than we should have. Disingenuous and fragmented beyond comprehension for those of us that simply wanted to see something more than naked bodies and sexual frustrations in a GLBTIQ+ world that is crying out for so much more substance and soul than was served up throughout. 2 stars is generous!

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  2. I wholeheartedly agree with the reviewer. The play had neither head nor tail. Didn't make any sense. And we didn't even fancy seeing those actors nude - completely unattractive sorry to be so blunt. My mate and I left during the interval. Waste of time!!!

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  3. Thank you for your support of my opinion. I try and be as honest as I can with my responses to work I am invited to review.

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